American University of Beirut

Beyond The Binary

​​​April 4, 2022​​ 

The concept of male and female is viewed by some as an inherent divide, but not everyone sees it this way, both today and in the past. While some societies have prescribed fixed gender roles, it has not always been pervasive across cultures and societies. Some Indigenous communities across North America had gender identities outside man or woman, such as “two-spirits.” In South Asian Hijra communities, those who are neither man nor woman, have documented histories and places in communities that date back over a thousand years. Many people today that do not identify as either man or woman have come to use the term non-binary, as in existing outside the confines of predefined gender roles.  

“This is a remarkable shift in visibility, the recognition of power in their voice.” – Lina Abou-Habib  

In Lebanon, some people who are non-binary have faced discrimination unique to their sex or gender identity. Throughout the last 20 years, a small safe space and hub for the queer and non-binary community burgeoned in Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh. Many people were able to reconstruct their lives with chosen “families” away from families or communities that may not have recognized them or been safe for them. An entire social fabric had been created there, but overnight it was destroyed by the August 4th Beirut blast. Many queer and non-binary folks lost their homes and livelihoods.  

From this tragedy, the community members that lost their safe space have organized grassroots efforts to restore them. Lina Abou-Habib, director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship, has seen how non-binary activists in Lebanon have built a movement through coalition work and, during the last 25 years, have gone from a discreet and marginalized community to a significant part of civil society. The MEPI Tomorrow’s Leaders Gender Scholars Program, which stipulates that students who benefit from the program must register for a gender course, has added to the chorus of AUB students engaging or connected to gender social movements and civil society in Lebanon.   

“Title IX ensures the AUB campus remains a safe space for all students regardless of gender identity.” – Lina Abou-Habib  

MEPI students connect, engage, and interact with queer groups and non-binary issues, which begins to open conversations around the social structures of gender. “Understanding that gender is not a binary but rather a spectrum and everything on the spectrum is fluid is the crux of the social movement,” says Abou-Habib. AUB MEPI-TLS students participate in gender workshops and community building that strengthen their gender knowledge and understanding of intersectional feminism. This knowledge can be a powerful tool for students at AUB that are exploring their own gender identities. As Lebanese society continues to struggle through political and economic difficulties it will fall on the most marginalized to show how looking outside the conventional ways of existing can create a new path. Just as living beyond the binary has for gender non-conforming people.

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